The Aterian: a Technocomplex created by H. Sapiens

Once thought to be an equivalent of the European Upper Paleolithic, the Aterian of the Maghreb, Libya and Egypt is now securely dated to OIS 5, 4 and 3 with the latest dates between 40 k.a. BP by TL, C-14,and ESR.

The definition, if a lithic ensemble is Aterian or MSA, solely depends on the presence or absence of tanged (and bifacial) pieces. This definition is quite unsatisfactory. I would argue that the presence or absence of tanged pieces in North African inventories depends on many different contextual factors, not well known at the moment. The situation resembles the Mousterian / Micoquian dichotomy in Middle Europe.

Until recently it was suggested that an early “undifferentiated” MSA was followed by the Aterian but the excavations  from Ifri n’Ammar provide straight evidence of an older Aterian at 130.0 ± 7.8 k.a, followed by  a MSA-layer without tanged artifacts at 130.0 ± 7.8 k.a and a younger Aterian dated to 83.3 ± 5.6 k.a.  There is evidence from the Jebel Gharbi and the Tadrart Acacus in Lybia, which shows that the Aterian may be earlier in the Sahara than in coastal Mediterranean Africa.    The typological differentiation between an “early”, “middle” and late “phase” Aterian is obsolete nowadays. A wide range of raw materials were used. Displayed in this post there are examples from quartzite, jasper and flint. Beside tanged points, tanged scrapers and tanged blades are common. Small Bifaces and Foliates are present at several sites.  The “fond commune” of both the MSA and the Aterian is a Levallois based technology with a lot of scrapers and denticulates.  The Aterians successfully coped with hyperarid conditions at the margins of the Sahara desert during and after OIS4.

There are some indications for some kind of elaborated symbolic thinking, as Nassarius gibbosulus shells purposefully perforated and stained with red ochre were recovered from the Aterian layers of Ifri n’Ammar, the Grotte des Pigeons at 82,5 k.a BP and Oued Djebbana at  60-90 k.a BP. Other examples include a bone pendant from the Grotte Zouhra, Morocco and four deliberately drilled quartzite flakes, probably designed for use as pendants, from Seggedim in eastern Niger.

From Aterian context at Dar-es-Soltane 2, Debenath (1994) describes an enigmatic heap of sandstone slabs about 1 m in diameter and 30 cm high. A larger pile of approximately 60 limestone balls was recovered from a fossil spring at the site of El-Guettar, Tunisia, together with broken bone, flaking waste, and a collection of retouched tools that includes a tanged Aterian point. Some of the El-Guettar stone balls are deliberately shaped spheroids, others are naturally round; they have diameters ranging between 4·5 and 18·0 cm. The base of the pile may have been surrounded by a ring of larger stones.

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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One Response to The Aterian: a Technocomplex created by H. Sapiens

  1. Dr. A. Schweiger says:

    Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren:
    Neben den für die hier gezeigten Aterien-Geräte verwendeten Materialien Quarzit, Jaspis und Flint wurde auch Libysches Wüstenglas für Aterien-Artefakte verwendet. Ich kaufte kürzlich einen kleinen (3.6 cm) gestielten monofazialen Schaber aus diesem Material (FO: Gilt Kebir, Grenze Ägypten/Libyen) dessen Oberflächen beträchtlich winderodiert sind. Daneben, auch aus LDG, eine wohl neolithische dreieckige Pfeilspitze mit eingezogener Basis (2.5-3.0cm) und einen bearbeiteten Abschlag (6.5 cm) Sind diese Angaben von Interesse? Beste Grüsse A. Schweiger.

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